Local solvents and chemicals company Rolfes Chemicals is investigating the applications of nanotechnology in coatings to diversify its business in Southern Africa, says Rolfes Chemicals MD Clive Govender.
Nanocoatings contain particles in the nanometre scale. These nanoparticles build a structural networks of molecules when applied to a surface. This means coatings can be designed to meet specific applications, such as to accommodate stretching and flexing in high-rise buildings or provide self-cleaning and antireflective coatings on glass facades.
Currently, nanotechnology is used in many industrial sectors. Aerospace, marine, electronics, agriculture and healthcare are the prominent industries where nanocoatings are used, but broader applications are being investigated.
Nanotechnology enhances the coating properties, such as self-cleaning, and scratch and water resistance. The anticorrosion and chemical protection properties provided by nanocoatings are higher than those of conventional coatings.
“We believe that the different performance enhancers afforded by nanotechnology processes will provide our clients with a dramatically increased range of applications and solutions across various industries,” says Govender.
“There have even been applications of specialist nanotechnology paints as anti-graffiti coats on trains, which enable any graffiti to be buffed off easily. It is these types of niche markets we will investigate first.”
Performance coatings can also be applied using conventional processes, such as rollers or sprayers, and, therefore, Rolfes Chemicals will also consider more conventional markets, such as building aesthetics.
Rolfes Chemicals’ traditional business is supplying solvents to the coating industry across Southern Africa. It is investigating potential demand from its clients for supplies of new performance paint materials and pigments.
Specialised processes, including milling, gas and liquid-phase processes, are used to produce nanoparticles, which will necessitate a renewal of and investment in equipment and technology.
However, Rolfes Chemicals aims to leverage an international technology partner during the early phases of investigating nanotechnology coatings before committing to new manufacturing equipment and processes, Govender notes.
He adds that the benefits of nanotechnology coatings could result in demand from large-scale construction and development projects, as well as industrial uses, such as anticorrosion coatings on metal components and machines.
Rolfes Chemicals’ research indicated that only six organisations in South Africa are involved in such particle nanotechnology, of which four are State-owned companies or research organisations, he adds.
“The technology provides an ideal opportunity to diversify our business and simultaneously become a leader in this space. It will enable us to design paints that are hydrophobic or hydrophilic; algae, stretch or ultraviolet-light resistant; anti-static; and even paints that have optic properties to produce colour-changing surfaces on buildings.”
The technology is revolutionising the paint industry and can improve the protection of building materials, maintenance and the required cleaning regimes for buildings.